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Sharing in faith: Why I support the church’s traditional stance on human sexuality

The Rev. Leicester R. Longden
Photo courtesy of the University of
Dubuque Theological Seminary.

 

Allow me to share some of my experience as a pastor and teacher in the church with regard to contested issues around sexuality.

In abbreviated form, this is why I support our church’s traditional stance on sexual morality.

“Testimony” is a worthy tradition in our church. But in a culture of unchecked individualism, where the self is constantly re-imagined, and “identities” are adopted and discarded recklessly, testimony as a Wesleyan tradition is too often untethered from the “quadrilateral” in which Scripture, experience, reason and tradition are tools to discover truths.

I do not see personal experience as an individualist trump card on church doctrine and teaching.

Although contemporary struggles to understand human sexuality have raised questions about biblical tradition, Christian experience at a more basic level is formed, shaped, and healed by that tradition.

I understand myself to be an orthodox Christian within The United Methodist Church. I am, as others, a sexual sinner who wants to live by God’s grace and not as a slave to my own desires.

My career as a United Methodist pastor began in 1973, when I served small and large churches in two different conferences. My career concluded this last May after 13 years as a seminary professor.

In every annual conference during that time, I have listened to Methodists argue about sex.

My pastoral encounters with people for whom sexuality had become a problem, a confusion, or a cause were more important to my understanding than the public arguments.

As a young pastor, I learned to listen to friends and parishioners who “came out” to me because they trusted our relationship. Their accounts of abuses, rejections, and fears provided me with real human experiences with which to assess the arguments and positions developing in the church and culture.

I also observed one board of ordained ministry that was zealous for “gay rights” and incautiously praised a gay candidate for ministry for his “bold testimony.”

Some of us who knew of the young man’s reckless behaviors and compulsions were grieved when he died of AIDS. He never received the accountability and formation he needed and deserved from his mentors.

My participation in civil rights activities in the public forum was equally disappointing.

I wrote several statements for press conferences only to discover that the press and political organizers had no qualms about using me for their own purposes. They deleted my references to the church’s nuanced approach to homosexuality.

At the same time, I received abusive attacks from members of my congregation who thought my support of civil rights for gay persons was evil.

In another congregation, I met gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals. Some came to my congregation seeking help, feeling caught between two worlds.

Their secular counselors and gay friends told them to get over it and to reject “heterosexism” and the oppression of Christian teaching. 

Their Christian friends either rejected them or told them just to pray harder.

They asked, “Where can we find counsel that guided us to faithful Christian living without turning us into poster children for causes left and right?”

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It was the passionate cry of people within my own congregations, struggling with the multiple pressures of the culture, their faith, and their confused sexual desires that led me to deeper study. I refused to be hurried by incessant demands for change without consideration of prudence, patience and humility.

This has set me at odds with many of my clergy and academic colleagues. I discovered too many of them are surprisingly uninformed. They seem to have read only political and activist propaganda.

“Gene studies will clarify all this for us,” they claimed.

It seems their zeal to be “on the right side of history” enables them to see scientific history before it happens. They seem unaware that “orientation” is not settled science.

“Sexual orientation” is not an “absolute” that has been established beyond all doubt.

It is a “social construction” designed to name certain behaviors; and it has been very useful politically for various activist and egalitarian movements.

Yet there is already strong pressure from scholars calling themselves “queer theorists” to dissolve all categories of orientation. Their goal seems to be to unleash sexuality from all natural or moral boundaries, making our sexual identities a work of self-creation.

Someone recently expressed it as: I desire, therefore I am.

In the face of all this fluidity and confusion in our culture, I remain confident in the church’s traditional moral vision.

We mortals are not reducible to bundles of erotic desire. We are made in the image of God.

Whatever our sexual confusions, our flesh has been assumed and redeemed by the Son of God, and we are promised freedom from the bondage of sin and the purification of all our desires.

The Rev. Leicester R. Longden
Dubuque, Iowa

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Posted July 22, 2014